U.S. State Department Announces Funding Opportunities for Cuba Proposals         

On April 17, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced it was accepting applications for “proposals that align with the U.S. government policy to promote human rights in Cuba as stated in the June 16, 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum—entitled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba” —as well as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act and other relevant legislation.” [1]

Requirements for Applicants

Eligible applicants are  “U.S.-based and foreign-based non-profit organizations/nongovernment organizations (NGO) and public international organizations; private, public, or state institutions of higher education; and for-profit organizations or businesses.  DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be some occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. In addition, applicants must have “proven capacity to implement foreign assistance programs to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights in Cuba” and the “existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders, including private sector partners and NGOs, and have demonstrable experience in administering successful and preferably similar projects. “

The Department anticipates making three to five awards with a “Funding Floor” of $500,000 and “Ceiling” of $2,000,000.

The Department’s Context for Proposals

“For more than sixty years, the Cuban regime has denied its citizens many of the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Political participation, freedom of association and peaceful assembly are restricted through tightly controlled, undemocratic elections and by withholding legal status from independent civil society organizations, labor unions, and diverse political parties or movements. The free flow of information and freedom of expression are suppressed by blocking the Cuban peoples’ access to media outlets, and by censoring independent journalists, artists, and other individuals with alternative views. As connectivity slowly increases, the government is also expanding measures to surveil and harass citizens online to further inhibit the free flow of information and to prevent activists from connecting with broader audiences in and outside Cuba.”

“The Cuban government also abuses freedom of religion or belief by restricting the ability of faith communities to congregate and worship outside of the state-sanctioned Council of Churches. Cuban state security regularly threatens, harasses, arbitrarily arrests, detains, and restricts the movement of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists on-island. Human rights organizations report more than 100 prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons, most sentenced under fabricated charges like “contempt” of Cuban authorities or “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” This repression is financed in large part by the labor exploitation of medical workers and other service providers, who receive only a fraction of the salaries paid by third countries for their services and often face threats from their Cuban government handlers to discourage them from absconding. Despite these systemic efforts by the regime to maintain strict control over all facets of cultural, political and socio-economic life in Cuba, independent civic groups, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, and others are increasingly advocating for more inclusive economic and political institutions.”

“DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen the capabilities of on-island, independent civil society to advance the above-mentioned rights and interests of all individuals in Cuba, and to overcome the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on the exercise of these civil and political rights.  DRL also strives to ensure its projects advance principles of non-discrimination with respect to race, religion, gender, disability, and other individual characteristics.”

“DRL seeks proposals that support Cuban-led initiatives that promote the human rights of all in Cuba—particularly the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, expression, political participation and religion and belief—and strengthen and expand the reach of those initiatives in Cuba by focusing on issues that resonate with Cuban citizens. Competitive proposals may also support the documentation of human rights abuses, including for use in domestic and international advocacy, and increase the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.  Proposals should offer a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging and developing contingencies for challenges to program implementation. Proposals should demonstrate consultative dialogue with local Cuban partners and present sound strategies to develop organizational capacity and foster collaboration among diverse segments of Cuba’s independent civil society.  Proposals should also include concrete initiatives that address recent developments on the island and have the potential to generate short-term impacts while leading to long-term sustainable change. (Emphasis added.)

“DRL prefers innovative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to ongoing efforts by other entities.  This does not exclude projects that clearly build on existing successful projects in a new way.  DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships with each other and submit a combined proposal in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant.  The applicant should also demonstrate experience programming effectively within Cuba and/or within other closed society environments.  Most importantly, the applicant should clearly demonstrate that the proposed activities emanate directly from needs expressed by Cuban civil society organizations.”

“Successful applications in the past have proposed activities reflective of the skills, knowledge, and linguistic capabilities of target beneficiaries.  Successful applications have also considered practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities and strive to ensure that beneficiary organizations will continue to function while certain members are participating in off-island activities.” (Emphases added.)

DRL also has a long list of activities that “typically are NOT considered: “The provision of humanitarian assistance; English language instruction; Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware; Purely academic research, exchanges, or fellowships; External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six weeks; Off-island activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary for security concerns; Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation for publication that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;  Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives; Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence that activities will achieve the stated impact; Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of Cuba; [and] Activities that are a duplication of other ongoing USG-funded projects in Cuba.”

Finally there will be no funding of “programs . . . that support the Cuban government, including Cuban government institutions, individuals employed by those institutions, or organizations controlled by government institutions.”

Conclusion

This is yet another of the weird and misguided U.S. public announcements of U.S. government-financed unilateral programs in Cuba without the cooperation of the Cuban government and indeed with the latter’s opposition and hence the need for these programs to be under-cover. The Department, therefore, highlights the need for applications to consider “contingencies for challenges to program implementation” and the “practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities.” In short, this is a fatally flawed idea.

How would the U.S. government react if Russia were to publicly announce that it was soliciting proposals for under-cover hacking of the U.S. election of 2020?

This proposal also continues to embrace the flawed claims that Cuba “abuses freedom of religion or belief” and that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program constitutes illegal forced labor, as discussed in many previous posts to this blog.[2] This proposal also continues to fail to understand why a small, poor nation of 11 people has rational fears of its much larger and more powerful neighbor to the north with a long history of hostility towards the island.

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[1] State Dep’t, Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): DRL FY19: Cuba Proposals (April 17, 2020).

[2] See these sections (“Cuban Human rights,” “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” and “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.”) in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

Cuba Response to  U.S. Campaign Against Cuba’s Medical Missions

During 2019, the U.S. has engaged in verbal attacks on Cuban medical missions around the world while Cuba withdrew thousands of its medical personnel from Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia, resulting in major financial losses for the Cuban government. [1]

On December 18, Cuba’s “Johana Tablada, deputy director of North American affairs for Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, said Trump administration officials have pressured Latin American governments to end the medical support programs, hurting health care in those countries.”[2]

Such U.S. actions, said Tablada, have “crossed the red line of decency by taking the foreign relations of the United States to levels of hypocrisy and double standards that none of his predecessors have done.” He also accused the U.S. of trying to destabilize Cuba in order to distract attention from the impeachment process against Trump.

As has been explained several times in this blog, one of the most outrageous and invalid U.S. allegations against the program is the assertion that the Cuban doctors and other medical personnel serving in various countries around the world are engaged in illegal forced labor or “modern day slavery.” The U.S. immediately should cease such accusations. Mere repetition does not make them valid.

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[1] Cuba Ministry Foreign Affairs, U.S. Crusade Against Cuban international medical cooperation, Granma (Dec. 6, 2019).

[2] Assoc. Press, Cuba Blasts US Over End of Medical Missions in Some Nations, (Dec. 18, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Litigation Over Cuba Medical Mission Program

On November 30, 2018, five Cuban doctors who had been on Cuban medical missions in Brazil filed a class action against PAHO alleging that it had “collected over $75 million since 2013 by enabling, managing, and enforcing illegal human trafficking [in Brazil] of Cuban medical professionals,” who were paid “10% or less of the fees the Brazilian Government paid PAHO for their services, while PAHO paid at least 85% to the Cuban Government” and retained 5% for its services. The 85-page complaint alleges violations of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (18 U.S.C. sec. 1589 and 1590); and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. sec. 1962).[1]

On December 25, 2019, PAHO filed a motion to transfer the case from the U.S. District court for the Southern District of Florida to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia, which was denied by the U.S. Magistrate on May 23, 2019, and without explanation the docket sheet ends on July 2, 2019 with an entry for an Order setting the hearing on the transfer motion for July 18, 2019.

That status of the case is correct, according to a January 22, 2020, report by the Cuba Money Project, because plaintiffs’ counsel has not attempted to serve process on PAHO under 28 U.S.C. sec. 1330(b), 1608.[2]

Although PAHO never responded to the Complaint or Amended Compliant in the federal court in Miami, its motion to transfer the case to the federal court in the District of Colombia stated that after transfer it would file a motion to dismiss the complaint and amended complaint on the ground that PAHO is immune from this lawsuit. In addition, PAHO summarized the bases for its immunity claim as follows: [3]

  • The U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s section 1330(b) “is the exclusive venue provision for cases against foreign states and, by extension via the International Organizations Immunities Act, designated International Organizations such as PAHO. . . [and provides] venue in this case is proper, if anywhere, only in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.”
  •   Moreover, “PAHO enjoys both absolute immunity under international law, 21 U.S.T. 1418 (Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations), and all of the immunities “from suit and every form of judicial process” enjoyed by foreign governments under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 22 U.S.C. § 288a(b).”

More recently the Wall Street Journal’s anti-Cuba columnist, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, focused on Cuba’s now discontinued medical mission to Brazil and to this lawsuit. She merely said this lawsuit is still in the pre-trial stage, and PAHO’s motion to transfer the case to the District of Colombia is pending.[4] That technically is true, but reveals a failure to investigate.

This blogger as a retired attorney has not tried to verify PAHO’s immunity claim or to ask plaintiffs’ counsel why they have not proceeded with the case, but the most plausible explanation is that they concluded that they had little chance of defeating the immunity defense.

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[1] Class Action Complaint, Rodriguez v. Pan American Health Organization, Case 1:18-cv-24995-DPG (S.D. FL Nov. 30, 2018); First Amended Class Action Complaint, Case 1:18-cv-24995-DPG (S.D. FL  Dec. 26, 2018.

[2] Was lawsuit over Cuban doctors a publicity stunt?, Cuba Money Project (Jan. 22, 2020).

[3] Putative Defendant Pan American Health Organization’s Objections to and Appeal from Magistrate Judge’s Denial of Motion To Transfer This Action to the District of Columbia, Rodriguez v. Pan American Health Organization, Case NO. 1-18-cv-24995-DPG (S.D. Fla. June 6, 2019).

[4] O’Grady, The U.N. and Human Trafficking, W.S.J. (Jan. 26, 2020).

 

 

 

State Department Memorializes Secretary Pompeo’s Visit to the Holy See

As discussed in a prior post, on October 2, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited the Holy See in Rome for various activities. Thereafter the State Department memorialized the main points of that visit. [1] Here is a summary of that document.

The State Department Document

Celebration of 35 Years of U.S.-Holy See Diplomatic Relations

“This year marks 35 years of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See. When President Reagan established the U.S. Embassy in 1984, he said it “would exist to the benefit of peace-loving people, everywhere.”  Today we share a global partnership based on common values, mutual respect, and moral leadership.”

“Our relationship is as strong as ever. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Holy See to promote human rights, advance religious freedom, combat human trafficking, and seek peaceful solutions to crises around the world.”

U.S.-Holy See Symposium  on Faith-Based Organizations

The statement claimed that Symposium was “co-hosted by the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See” and was “a direct result of the Secretary’s July 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.”

U.S.-Holy See Prioritize Promoting Religious Freedom Globally

 “The protection of religious freedom is central to the Trump administration’s foreign policy and the protection of this unalienable human right is an essential part of who we are as Americans. The Holy See has long been a global champion of this universal right. Securing and defending religious freedom is a priority we both share.”

U.S.-Holy See Partner To Combat Human Trafficking

 “The Holy See and the United States share a common commitment to the fight against human trafficking, and the Holy See is a valued partner through its will and capacity to prevent and address this heinous crime.”

U.S. and Holy See Are Two of World’s Greatest Humanitarian Forces

“The Holy See. . . is one of the greatest humanitarian forces in the world. It maintains a vast network, second only to the International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent.”

“The United States is the world’s most generous provider of humanitarian aid, but delivering that aid successfully and efficiently requires partnerships with governments like the Holy See. By maintaining and strengthening diplomatic relations with the Holy See, the United States benefits from its unparalleled global presence.”

Reactions

This document promotes the view that the Trump Administration is a strong advocate of religious freedom and is embraced by the Holy See. It also states that this Administration is fervently against human trafficking without mentioning its unfounded argument that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program is engaged in that activity. This document may also be seen as fodder for President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign if he survives impeachment.

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[1] State Dep’t, The United States and the Holy See: Partners in Advancing Religious Freedom, Combating Human Trafficking, and Promoting Human Rights (Oct. 3, 2019).